The Radical Lives of Helen Keller

The Radical Lives of Helen Keller

The Radical Lives of Helen Keller

The Radical Lives of Helen Keller

Excerpt

Helen Keller is a historical figure known around the globe, whose publicly celebrated story tends to begin and often ends with the moment in 1887, when Anne Sullivan pumped water onto the seven-year-old girl's hands and the manual alphabet became her main means of communication. The Helen Keller of political passion and action, the adult who did not die until 1968, is absent from The Miracle Worker and the warehouse quantity of children's and adult literature about her. Our shared cultural memories of her generally omit her vivid political life and politicized activities, particularly her interest in radicalism and her critique of capitalism. The sentimentalized story of the young deaf-blind girl has trumped the Helen Keller represented in Philip Foner's 1967 anthology of her socialist and radical speeches. She frequently did not like the world as it was and sought political frameworks for change. The manufactured frameworks of our historical memory, no less political, keep that Helen Keller hidden from view.

Keller's first step toward our shared cultural memories came when Alexander Graham Bell first heard of the six-and-a-half-year-old child in 1886. An illness at the age of nineteen months had left her deaf and blind. From their hometown of Tuscumbia, Alabama, her parents sought assistance for the young girl they loved, since they felt increasingly incapable of parenting her. Responding to a letter from Helen's mother Kate, Bell, already famous as an inventor of the telephone and as an educator of deaf people, met with Helen, her mother, and her father Captain Arthur H. Keller. He forwarded them to Boston's Perkins School for the Blind and its director Michael Anagnos. But Bell remained, in Keller's characterization, “a wise, affectionate, and understanding friend” until the end of his life. She vacationed with the Bell family and considered him a father figure. He . . .

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.